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It is now an hour past midnight, 2017. The bottle of champagne popped to celebrate this new year sits half empty on my coffee table. Cheers is on the tube, and Cleaver is on my mind. Looking back, I see that 2016 was a complicated year for our country, but a productive year for Cleaver Magazine.
First, we made it to Issue 16. So exciting! This was a major accomplishment for us, possible only because of our talented editors, interns, and contributors, as well as, our dedicated readers and donors. Thwacks! to your support, we hope to build on this success and to continue publishing innovative, introspective work that positively influences the literary community.
Second, we not only put out four killer quarterly lit issues—12 through 16—but we also opened four new daily feature categories: Ask June, Travel Essays, Radio Plays, and Life As Activism. These features increased our ability to connect with a broader spectrum of readers. They also opened a portal through which more diverse voices could be heard. As 2017 wades into port across troubled waters, these features will be here: platforms at the ready for people needing to express their excitement, their fears, their queries, and their calls for action.
And third, we experienced a sharp spike in readership. We took a chance publishing increasingly innovative, sometimes experimental, and even a bit partisan work. And, it paid off. Readers devoured our digital offerings and then spread word of their favorite pieces, repeatedly. Of the many pieces we’ve published to date, below are the top ten enjoyed throughout 2016.
They begin with our most-read piece, an art feature edited by Raymond Rorke:
1) A PRESENCE IN WOOD, Sculpture by Miriam Carpenter.
2) BECOMING AN OUTLAW Or: How My Short Fiction Became a Memoir, a craft essay by Andrea Jarrell.
3) SEEKING CHILDHOOD, a craft essay by Nathaniel Popkin.
4) BREAK A LEG, creative nonfiction by Lisa Romeo.
6) THE LIVING MUSUEM, a short story by Jen Knox.
8) THE LOVE NOTE, flash fiction by Svetlana Beggs from Issue 13.
9) THE EMPATHY MACHINE, Part II, a graphic narrative essay by Kelly McQuain.
10) BIRCH WATERS, a short story by Meg Pendoley.
As morning draws near and my glass sits empty, I can say honestly that I am excited for the future of Cleaver magazine. Last year was the tops and 2017 is already set up to surpass it. We—editor, reader, and contributor alike—are building something great here. Let’s keep this momentum going.
Below is an in-depth sampling of 2016’s most read Cleaver pieces.
1) A Presence in Wood, Sculpture by Miriam Carpenter. Surprise! An art piece is the most read article on Cleaver for 2016. From Issue 13, March 2016.
“Throughout my life I have sought the companionship of trees, and have developed an ever deepening reverence for them. Trees are intelligent, resilient, majestic, and adaptable. When a tree has reached the end of its life, the shadow of what once was presents another gift in the form of a satiny, warm, sensual material.
“Each piece of wood has its own story—reflections of moments specific to place and time within the architecture of a species. Each tree has its own experience and characteristics uniquely formed by its geographical location, the effects of the seasons, wind, rain, and what grew beside it. The history of each year is physically recorded in each ring slowly reacting to external and internal stresses after it has died and been cut into lumber. Reading this story in the grain is just as exciting to me as transforming it into an artifact. The more time I spend with each piece of wood, the deeper my understanding grows. Respecting its capacity and understanding its potential, I can be more thoughtful in how I bring the piece to completion.
“Everything that I create is an experiment. Whether the approach is multi-axis split turning, bending, or carving by hand, it is always an exploration of the material’s unique potential […]”
2) BECOMING AN OUTLAW Or: How My Short Fiction Became a Memoir, a craft essay by Andrea Jarrell, October 2016.
“Like a bedtime story, my mother often told me of our escape, fugitives from my father, a man as alluring as he was violent. She was nineteen, a girl-woman, scared of what this man who slept beside her with a gun under his pillow might do if my crying got too much or yet another man admired her beauty. She used to say that the day she first felt me move inside her, she began plotting to leave him.
“Our getaway car was a teal blue Corvair. I was just a year old, literally and figuratively strapped in beside her. The car that delivered us to our freedom was famously recalled by its manufacturer for its tendency to lose control. Shed of my father, she said she felt as if I’d been hatched—a being she’d conjured, like Athena sprung from the head of Zeus. In the narrative she invented for us, I had as little control as our faulty Corvair […]”
3) Seeking Childhood, a craft essay by Nathaniel Popkin, February 2016.
“In early 1951, when the Mexican writer Homero Aridjis was almost eleven, he came home from playing soccer with friends and, following a vague urge, took his brother’s shotgun to the yard. He shot into the air, scattered the birds aloft from the sapodilla tree, and dropped the shotgun to the ground. The gun fired and struck Aridjis in the stomach. He barely survived. The accident, writes Chloe Aridjis, his daughter, “cleaved in two” his life and sealed off his early childhood “like a locked garden.” In the aftermath of the accident, Homero Aridjis began reading and writing in earnest, the crucible of an astonishingly prolific career, but without access to memories of his own boyhood.
“I am particularly hungry for this book because my own childhood is locked away, and my writing suffers for it. It isn’t clear why—there is nothing so acute as a gun accident in my history.
“Twenty years after the gun accident, with his wife, Betty Ferber, pregnant with Chloe, the couple’s first child, Aridjis began to have “astonishingly vivid dreams” of his childhood. These dreams unlocked the garden of memory. He eventually recounted them in a slender memoir of childhood, El poeta niño, published in 1991. Now, Chloe Aridjis, the author of the novel Book of Clouds, has produced an English translation, The Child Poet, brought out by Archipelago Books this month […]”
4) Break A Leg, creative nonfiction by Lisa Romeo, from Issue 14, June 2016.
“Perhaps it was raining that day. Or maybe Firestarter, a rangy Thoroughbred, was recovering from an injury—ex racers were prone to that. Perhaps Melanie, his owner, asked that he be kept inside so he’d be sparkplug fresh when she arrived; she liked spunk.
Whatever the reason, I was cleaning Firestarter’s stall with him in it. I’d done this before, with my own placid horse, and others, though not the fidgety, leggy Firestarter. Kate and I were quiet, diligent, eager to get chores done before I’d climb on Poco, and she’d straddle Speckles, the pony she’d outgrown.
“I headed into Firestarter’s stall, eyes on the left corner where his manure tended to accumulate. But instead of holding the shovel straight up and down, as I’d been taught to do every time when passing a horse, I held it in the extended position.
“I simultaneously saw and heard it hit Firestarter’s cannon bone, hard, inches below the knee on his elegant brown leg. The shovel vibrated in my hands. How would I explain a broken leg? To Melanie? The stable manager? My parents? I watched, afraid that majestic, lovely animal would collapse. For a small second, his leg merely imperceptibly shivered, flinched. I jerked the shovel away, lunged backward into the aisle. Firestarter only inched his leg back. Kate worked on, unaware; shovels hit the wall and floor all the time. Horses shifted […]”
6) The Living Museum, a short story by Jen Knox, from Issue 13, March 2016.
“I am on the bus with a cloth grocery bag and my notebook, trying to depersonalize my urge to speak to the man next to me. He is over six feet with no ring, and he already looked my way a few times. Now, mouth open and eyes fixed, he watches the reddening sky with everyone else, while I watch him. I long to be a part of the sky.
“The little girl across the aisle points to the window when I look her way, but I just nod and write. My urges are part of a condition, not part of me. They will pass. Meanwhile, the impending storm is bathing everyone in soft, flattering light.
“My goal is to avoid triggers until I become stronger, but this requires meticulous planning—more planning than I thought given the bus schedules and a rather inconvenient mistake I made some months back. The problem is numbers. Well, that and proximity […]”
“Abide with me the night shadows
caterwauling on the walls—Lava Lamp Red
as the squad car pulling up to the curb.
Inside, a fish tank shifts—precarious—Colors dizzy
in a kitchen of bodies without form. Pot partying,
I made-out with my boyfriend, our friend gave
his hands to be cuffed into silence—Whispers in
the next room. All said and done, Willy sat
in jail for an ounce of stale attic
mouse-weed. We went to college to cavil
in a dormitory of freshman […]”
8) The Love Note, flash fiction by Svetlana Beggs from Issue 13, March 2016.
“In 1988, when our city was still called Leningrad and kids wore red (always wrinkled) Young Pioneers’ scarves, my friend Natasha developed a crush on Yura, the tallest boy in 6th grade. She blushed whenever he walked near her, causing us to start feeding Natasha’s backpack tiny love notes bearing Yura’s forged cursive. I was the designated forger, Lida was the writer, and Polina the spy, but we jokingly called her “The Assassin.” In two months we published seven short notes and made five prank calls to Natasha’s flat, releasing Lida’s “deeply meaningful silence.” Around this time, Natasha began to apply her sister’s eyeliner in the school’s bathroom, and we told her honestly that her new look was “amazingly alluring,” even though Yura’s friends now called her “The Vampire.” She would walk into the classroom holding the backpack over her breasts, and the boys would say, “Hide from the Vampire!” and Yura would chuckle because he wanted to continue being friends with these boys.
“One day, Elena Nikolaevna, our fear-and-trembling-inducing algebra teacher we all called “The Guillotine,” pried a draft of our love note from Lida’s fist and mercilessly unfolded the crumpled piece of paper. Everyone grew quiet from the effort of suppressing curiosity while showing overt dislike of The Guillotine. And then she started reading the note (omitting Yura’s name, thank God), her voice rich with enjoyment because she was delivering the pleasure a lot of students craved while simultaneously showing everyone her whip. The Guillotine had a way of making things sour and unappetizing, saying, for example, “comradeship” instead of “friendship,” or “it is in your interest,” when she clearly had her own interest in mind. In her voice our note no longer felt like a clumsy first draft—it sounded sinister, as if written by a creepy stalker: “…When you walk home tonight, turn around five times and you might see me […]”
9) The Empathy Machine, Part II, a graphic narrative essay by Kelly McQuain, from Issue 13, March 2016.
10) Birch Waters, a short story by Meg Pendoley, from Issue 14, June 2016.
“When she first came to Epping after dropping out of art school in Boston, Davi loved the way everything in the farmhouse was old and falling apart, swollen in August, when she arrived, and then splintering all through the winter. Beth gave Davi one of her dead husband’s orange hunting hats to sleep in, and Beth slept in a camo skullcap. The kitchen was so cold November through March, Beth wore cotton gloves in the morning when she sat at the Formica table drinking instant coffee. For the first few months after she moved in, Davi sketched the kitchen almost every day, usually more than once. The light was so nice in there. Beth liked the sketches and stuck them to the fridge with magnets from the dentist. Davi was over it now, mostly, and the sketches were a little moldy from the moist air seeping out of the freezer.
“Last night Beth went around opening the windows and now the whole house smells like defrosting mud. All day it’s been warm and wet, just a constant misting over the hay fields out back, but it’s getting dark and cold. Davi is washing dishes in the kitchen and watching Beth through the window as she sends off the women from Birch Waters. They came by while Davi was out running errands. When she walked into the kitchen they were talking about how to celebrate the new moon. They said maybe it would help with Beth’s chickens—they hadn’t been laying for months—and the women from Birch Waters hoped their couple of cows would let down more milk. Davi soaps down the tea plates and mismatched mugs in one side of the cast iron sink, stacks of ceramic rising in slippery towers to the lip, where some of the porcelain that used to line the whole thing still spots the metal […]”
*Featured Image Courtesy of Brigitte Tohm via Unsplash.com